Clonkeen College board faces axe over playing fields row

Christian Brothers congregation is selling 7.5 acres of Clonkeen College’s pitches in Deansgrange for €18m

Edward Melly, principal of Clonkeen College, by school grounds the Christian Brothers want to sell. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Edward Melly, principal of Clonkeen College, by school grounds the Christian Brothers want to sell. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The board of management of Clonkeen College in south Dublin has been told it will be dissolved over its resistance to a controversial plan by the Christian Brothers to sell the school’s playing fields.

The congregation sparked controversy last year when it emerged it had decided to sell 7.5 acres of pitches at the Deansgrange school for a sum reported to be in the region of €18 million.

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST), the patron body for the school, has confirmed it is seeking to dissolve the board on the basis of “poor governance” and its involvement in a legal action seeking to halt the sale.

Any move to dissolve the board, however, will require the approval of Minister for Education Richard Bruton.

A spokeswoman for Mr Bruton said she was not in a position to comment on the issue on Thursday night.

The school’s board of management told parents it was “stunned and shocked” to be informed by the trust that it would be dissolved unless it disassociated itself from the legal action and accepted an offer from the Christian Brothers.

Board members say they were told at a meeting on December 18th that unless they agreed to these terms within 48 hours, the trust would begin the process of dissolving the board.

Michael Blanchfield, the chair of the schools eight-member board of management, said members felt pressurised into accepting an offer without any written clarification on the details.

Voluntary capacity

He said the members, who serve in a voluntary capacity, were individually couriered notices of intention to dissolve the board three days before Christmas.

Under the Education Act of 1998, patrons are required to give a board of management a month’s notice if they propose to remove members or dissolve school boards, prior to seeking the Minister’s approval.

Mr Blanchfield said: “If this does go ahead, it’s a sad day that a board with voluntary people, who did nothing other than try to do the best for the school, should be dissolved. What more can you ask of a board? What does this say to people serving in a voluntary capacity in other school boards?”

In a statement, the Edmund Rice Schools Trust confirmed that it had sought the Minister’s consent to dissolve the board.

The trust said it was forced to take the action because of its “serious concern that actions being pursued by some members of the board show poor governance and are no longer in the best interests of ERST’s schools”.

“ERST, as trustees, is concerned that the Clonkeen board is continuing to support a High Court challenge to the sale of land adjacent to the school. This is despite confirmation of a significantly improved offer of additional land to the college, made by the Congregation of Christian Brothers and signed by the developer.”

More space

It said the additional land meant Clonkeen College would have significantly more space than the Department of Education’s recommendation for a school of its size, while it would also have a larger area for playing facilities than 90 per cent of the trust’s network of 97 schools.

It has been reported that, as part of the land sale, about €10 million of the money would go to the redress scheme for victims of historical institutional abuse, while the ERST would receive €4 million and the school would get €1.3 million.

The school claims it had an agreement with the congregation since 2006 that the playing fields would be available to the school as long as it was operating as a school, a position the congregation rejects.


* The article was amended on January 26th to clarify that Edmund Rice Schools Trust, and not the Christian Brothers congregation, is seeking to dissolve Clonkeen College's board of management.